by Frank A. Aukofer

So the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid runs on sunshine as well as batteries and a gasoline engine. So what?

Call it groundbreaking, or unique, or perhaps a benchmark for the future. As technology advances, we’re likely to witness increasingly efficient ways of making clean power for motor vehicles.

Large-40183-2020SonataHybridIt’s not a breakthrough — yet. Solar panels have popped up all over the world as a way to reliably generate renewable clean energy. On the Sonata Hybrid, an array of solar-powered photovoltaic panels are installed on the roof under glass, right where you might find a panoramic sunroof on another car.

Electrons in the panels’ silicon cells are activated by photons of light from the sun, generating electricity. So far it doesn’t contribute a great deal to fuel economy. Hyundai of South Korea says the system can deliver 1,300 kilometers of extra electric range in a year, or about 808 miles.

That’s if you drive about six hours a day. Though the system can keep the batteries topped up, it won’t recharge them completely. Hyundai says it can recharge 30% to 60% of the batteries in a day. Juice goes into the lithium hybrid batteries as well as the 12-volt system for accessories.

Large-40154-2020SonataHybridThe Sonata Hybrid combines a 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 139 lb-ft of torque with a 51-hp electric motor that delivers 151 lb-ft of torque. The combined hybrid system generates 192 hp and, with the slight boost from the Solar Roof, has an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 45/51/47 mpg.

That’s certainly not shabby for a roomy sedan that, based on its overall interior volume, sneaks into the large car category as defined by the government. Its passenger volume is 104.4 cubic feet and the trunk another 16 cubic feet, for a total of 120.4. Any car with more than 120 cubic feet of interior space is classified as large.

It drives large, too, with some of the heft and steering feel of big luxury cars. There are four driver-selectable drive modes: Custom, Sport. Eco and Smart that adjust shift points, steering feel and handling. Unlike other hybrids that use continuously variable automatic transmissions with their absence of shift points, the Sonata Hybrid uses a six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Large-40164-2020SonataHybridLike other hybrids, the Sonata also features idle stop-start technology to enhance fuel economy. But there’s no hesitation off the line. With some other systems, especially those installed on gasoline-engine vehicles, there’s a hiccup on setting off as the engine re-starts. But on the Sonata Hybrid, the electric motor is poised to get things going with instant torque, or twisting force.

Select the Sport mode on the Sonata Hybrid Limited, punch the loud pedal and feel your torso slam into the seatback. It feels powerful and fast. Then settle down to a quiet, fuss-free ride on the freeway as the fuel gauge needle barely moves.

Though the handling on twisting roads can get a bit darting in some of the drive modes because of a somewhat irregular lane-keeping assist, there’s a solid feel and informative steering feedback in the Sport mode.

Large-40162-2020SonataHybridThere are three versions of the Sonata Hybrid: Blue, SEL and Limited. The base Blue, which is estimated to start somewhere south of $30,000, gets the best city/highway/combined fuel economy: 50/54/52 mpg. However, it does not come with the Solar Roof, which is reserved for the upper trim levels.

The tested Limited was loaded with full safety and convenience equipment: automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, driver drowsiness detector and a blind-spot monitor that displays photos in the instrument cluster of the right- and left-rear areas. Though informative in an emergency, the system is no substitute for proper adjustment of the outside mirrors.

Large-40163-2020SonataHybridAfter the national press introduction was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, a top-line Limited model was made available as a test vehicle delivered through a third-party vendor.

Price information was not immediately available, awaiting the date when Sonata Hybrids arrive at dealerships. An educated estimate, based on the prices of the gasoline-engine Sonatas and leavened by the fact that hybrids cost more to manufacture, placed the tested Limited model with a base price of about $37,500 and, with one modest option, an as-tested price of $37,635.

Large-40138-2020SonataHybridSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 150 hp, 139 lb-ft torque; 39 kW electric motor, 51 hp, 151 lb-ft torque; with 270-volt lithium battery and hybrid starter-generator. Combined hybrid system 192 horsepower.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 104/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,530 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 45/51/47 mpg.
  • Estimated base price, including destination charge: $37,500.
  • Estimated price as tested: $37,635.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Large-40182-2020SonataHybridPhotos (c) Hyundai